George Mack tweeted out a “synergy map” that Walt Disney originally drew on a napkin in 1957 that blew me away in its simplicity. As a visual learner this drawing spoke more clearly to me than a dozen books on the topic might have. As they say: a picture is worth a thousand words. Who knew that better than Walt Disney?
The key to this strategic map is in the center. The creative people drove everything with consistent output of intellectual property. This fueled exponential growth for Walt Disney Corporation for 97 years and counting. If you look at Disney since then, they’ve acquired more intellectual property with Pixar, LucasFilms and Marvel to revitalize the center. Altogether a stunningly effective vision that continues to evolve and grow. There’s an informative article on this strategy on reforge.com worth reading to learn more about the Disney strategy.
But what of us? What can we take from this synergy map to apply in our own lives? Well, to start with it won’t be nearly as complicated as the Disney strategy map. But it starts with knowing what your core intellectual property is (what do you create?) and then build out a mutually sustaining infrastructure around it. That might be a job or starting a business or non-profit, it can be a blog or a publishing company (for distribution of that intellectual property), and it might be merchandise.
Take someone who brews beer. Their intellectual property is in the beer recipes, but also in the company logo, artwork on the cans and overall vibe in the products and in the tasting room. They create synergies for that with a social media presence, maybe creative partnerships with concerts and food trucks every weekend, and sell merchandise. The more you expand these synergistic parts of your map, the more it fuels the creatives who can add more brewing equipment and distribution.
Writing a blog every day is centering, but is it the center? There are plenty of examples of people who have made it so. Maybe its a synergistic side hustle of your overall entity. Do you write to make money or for other reasons? Do you do anything to make money or for other reasons? What do you want it to become? Drawing it all out on a strategy map might answer some of those questions.
The trick is in knowing what your center is and what you want to build towards. What drives everything else? Sometimes you stumble upon it, but mostly you just keep trying things until you find your niche. Disney focused on monetization of his creative output. You might look at optimization of time or some other key metric. But you must know the center and where and why you want to go from there.
The why is written on the arrows linking the different nodes sprouting from your center. Look back at Disney’s, you’ll see that there are arrows going both ways. Nothing is a one way street, and it shouldn’t be in your life either.
And here lies the beauty of the Walt Disney synergy map. You see where the dead ends are. Where the synergies aren’t all that strong. And where you have a chance to build something special in your life. All you need is a pencil and something to draw on. Want a napkin?